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Interview - Solaa

Author: Aaron Roach
Monday, October 22, 2007
New Zealand has, for many years, flown across the line of understated and overrated when it comes to musical standards. In the past, pop icons such as the Finn brothers have tapped into Australia's mainstream market with a multitude of success while recently, we've had the likes of Shapeshifter take the helm of Australian festivals such as Parklife, much to the appreciation of the bigger island's audiences.

With an abundance of talent coming out of NZ's woodwork, it should come as no surprise that Solaa is also musically breaking through to our country's receptive crowds with their diverse catalogue of music that can only be described as improvisation ingenuity.

Band member Isaac Aesili explains: "Improvisation has always been essential to our music. Most of Steps In Time was created through spontaneous jams, so we value the power of making up music on the spot.

"It was essential for us to produce a debut album that reflected the diverse musical backgrounds of our collective. We have been together for 10 years and, over that time, we have explored and written songs ranging from jungle/drum n bass, funk, soul, hip hop, r'n'b, afro-Latino and heaps of other styles.

"We didn't want to be limited to a single genre box, so we aimed to project a diverse sound to stay true to our musical roots."

In light of this, Solaa ensures that, whether they're playing live, or laying down studio productions, people will experience a wealth of ad-lib sounds, to which Aesili says, "We started out playing improvisation, then [played] rehearsed material. We always have improvised solos and at least one free and open song."

With the new album being received well by both lovers of quality music and punters used to a more traditional dance sound, Aesili feels that the timeless music Solaa produces will go against the current trends of Electro that Australia is pushing, saying "Fads…tend to encourage disposable, formulaic music that won't stand the test of time.

"We are fortunate in New Zealand, because we tend to perceive music from multiple directions simultaneously."

It should come as no surprise, then, that groups like Solaa are starting to take centre stage at festivals that are normally reserved for traditional dance music acts. "There are still heaps of dance acts that rock the party at festivals," says Aesili, "but I think more than a decade of DJs…people are gravitating to live music because it's more entertaining. Live bands are incorporating electronic elements into shows, thanks to more portable samplers.

"Experiencing the best of both worlds is a treat."

Solaa recently brought their show to our shores, with Aesili enthusiastic about the response they got from their gigs across the country, saying "It was great to be well-received, especially being from New Zealand, as we were a little of uncertain of how our sound would go down.

"We were humbled by all the support we got."

While the traditional notion of a live show from a live dance act usually means a pre-programmed set that can be triggered with the press of a single button, Aesili says that, for Solaa, it's all about creating variations: "We cultivate our set lists of songs specifically for each gig. We also try to vary instrumentation, timbre and tempo throughout the journey of our sets, so that we maintain the attention of the audience and make the most of being a live band."

Solaa's album Steps in Time is out now through Inertia.

Read the review here